For vision and perseverance to construct and operate Minnesota’s first municipal fiber-to-the-home network and its support of regional broadband via Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services.
- Well into the 1990s, the quality of available internet service in Windom was poor. Community frustration was on the rise.
- Community leaders did not quit after a failed vote to build a municipal network in 1999; the community rallied with a successful ballot initiative in 2002.
- The network build began in 2004, making Windom the first city in Minnesota to own and operate a competitive municipal citywide fiber-to-the-home network.
- Windom was a Blandin Foundation partner in both Get Broadband and Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities programs to spur technology sophistication in the community.
- Windom led the way in bringing connections to a rural region that incumbent providers had largely ignored. This investment has brought multiple benefits to the community:
- WindomNet has been critical to retaining anchor employers.
- It has spurred job growth and facilitated adoption by local health care providers of cost-effective telemedicine applications.
- In 2007 WindomNet began to collaborate with eight other communities to form Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services.
Pictured: Jeff Dahna and Denise Nichols, City of Windom
Steve Nasby, Windom City Administrator
Why is it important that rural Minnesotans have broadband access?
Broadband access is very similar to electrification of rural America. To participate fully in the economy, you need a connection. Business, education, and now medical services are all running on a broadband platform. Technology is pervasive and, as a small community, we need to be connected to be relevant.
What do you see as your biggest broadband victory?
I think the biggest victory to date would be the successful public referendum in 2002. It passed with approximately 68% of the votes. This happened because of local leaders who banded together and rallied the community after failed promises from existing providers.
In my tenure, our biggest victory has been related to economic development and the ability to improve quality of life. I’ll give you a few examples.
- Toro is an equipment manufacturer that has a plant in Windom. It’s imperative that they move data back and forth between their plant in Bloomington. They wouldn’t still be in town if not for the broadband connection.
- Fortune Transportation has two large facilities, one in Windom and the other in New Mexico. Their telephone system was not offering internet and they needed broadband or they’d leave. We included their facilities in our service territory and they’re still here today, providing key transportation support to other businesses in our area.
- Our school district now has iPads for all students. This allows them to do their homework at home and enhances educational opportunities.
- Our local medical facilities are using telemedicine to do things like send X-rays to specialists. These services vastly improve the healthcare we have in our community.
What role did local leadership play in your accomplishments?
Local leadership has been infused in every step of this project. The city council and community committee led the early efforts on the referendum. Today, the city council and telecom commission help oversee and guide the system. Their decisions support what best for the system. A couple years ago, they passed a system upgrade. And what’s amazing is that the upgrade was needed because of increased use.
Multiplication of use of broadband in our community is amazing! Leadership has been on board with helping maintain and improve our system where we need to do that. They’ve also looked at how we can increase the use by doing things like wifi at arena and parks, security systems at parks and the pool, and support an intranet at the City of Windom.
What words of encouragement would you give to community leaders working to improve broadband access?
Have perseverance and plan to be successful by doing your homework. It took our city several attempts to get a bond referendum passed, but we didn’t stop.
We went this route to fill a gap. In our area, broadband is not going to be a money maker. We don’t have the density. Yet the cost is still the same for the equipment. If you’re from a small town like Windom, do your due diligence and really look at the numbers. Be aware of what’s out there for cost and revenues.